Capercaillie on brink of extinction, says expert


By Alexander Lawrie

ONE of Scotland’s most famous birds is on the brink of extinction, a leading expert on the species has warned.

The number of Capercaillie has fallen by more than half and the amount of birds left could be as low as 700.

Dr Robert Moss, the UK’s leading authority on Capercaillie, blames the potentially catastrophic decline on human encroachment onto the large grouse’s natural habitat combined with Scotland’s changing weather patterns.

He claims the country’s mild winters and cold springs have led Capercaillie hens to produce weaker chicks, which are more susceptible to disease and predation.

But, the RSPB have hit back saying Dr Moss is “premature” in talking of a local extinction of this species.

Moss, formerly of the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology in Banchory, Aberdeenshire, is also concerned that a stronghold of the birds in Speyside is under threat from a tourism drive in the Cairngorms National Park.

Nature walks and mountain biking have eroded the bird’s habitat and chicks are killed by dogs who are allowed to run free.

The estimates will embarrass conservation bodies such as the RSPB which have received more than 5 million Euros of public money over the past decade to save the bird.

Dr Moss said: “Conservation money has given Capercaillie a better chance, but if the weather continues they could be extinct within 10 years.”

James Reynolds, spokesman for the RSPB, said: “There is little doubt that the conservation of Capercaillie presents a very major challenge, but the way to respond to that is certainly not to give in to it.

“Resources are in place to deliver real benefits to this species over the next few years, with many positive projects under way presently.
“Capercaillie’s most favoured habitat is pristine Caledonian pine forest – a habitat that, until the latter part of the last century, had been continually declining and fragmenting for some 4,000 years.

“Now, with real on-the-ground habitat conservation being delivered for this magnificent grouse species, for the first time in several millennia this precious forest is spreading, benefiting a vast array of native wildlife.

“As such it is premature to start to talk about local extinction of this species.”

And Colin Seddon, Manager of the Scottish SPCA Wildlife Rescue Centre in Fife, said: “Changes in weather patterns, such as the damper winters and warmer summers, are adversely affecting the abundance of blueberries, an important food source for the Capercaillie.
“But there are many other threats facing Scotland’s rare native bird. Their nesting and mating grounds are affected by disturbances by members of the public and dog walkers.
“And the construction of deer fencing is another factor. When disturbed the birds will often fly into the fences in fright resulting in injury or death.”


  1. Bicycles should not be allowed in any natural area. They are inanimate objects and have no rights. There is also no right to mountain bike. That was settled in federal court in 1994: . It’s dishonest of mountain bikers to say that they don’t have access to trails closed to bikes. They have EXACTLY the same access as everyone else — ON FOOT! Why isn’t that good enough for mountain bikers? They are all capable of walking….

    A favorite myth of mountain bikers is that mountain biking is no more harmful to wildlife, people, and the environment than hiking, and that science supports that view. Of course, it’s not true. To settle the matter once and for all, I read all of the research they cited, and wrote a review of the research on mountain biking impacts (see ). I found that of the seven studies they cited, (1) all were written by mountain bikers, and (2) in every case, the authors misinterpreted their own data, in order to come to the conclusion that they favored. They also studiously avoided mentioning another scientific study (Wisdom et al) which did not favor mountain biking, and came to the opposite conclusions.

    Those were all experimental studies. Two other studies (by White et al and by Jeff Marion) used a survey design, which is inherently incapable of answering that question (comparing hiking with mountain biking). I only mention them because mountain bikers often cite them, but scientifically, they are worthless.

    Mountain biking accelerates erosion, creates V-shaped ruts, kills small animals and plants on and next to the trail, drives wildlife and other trail users out of the
    area, and (worst of all) teaches kids that the rough treatment of nature is okay (it’s NOT!). What’s good about THAT?

    For more information: .

  2. I am astonished that dogs are allowed in any National Park in Scotland. I am even more surprised, if possible, that they are allowed off leash. What can you be thinking of? OF COURSE there will be an effect on wildlife! and how many of these dogs are obedience trained to “Leave It !” when so directed?
    Here in California, dogs are not allowed in national parks beyond the parking lot, let alone on trails, even on leash. On other public lands, dogs are allowed on designated trails, only on a leash, maximum six foot length. On a certain few other public lands, the dog must be under strict voice control if off-leash, maximum three dogs running free, and only on designated trails. This is the ONLY way to protect the wildlife and other trail users. There are special dog parks available for totally free gamboling.
    No, it isn’t easy; dog training takes a lot of work. At age 76, I am a lifelong dog owner. All of our dogs are rescue dogs, and all obedience trained. When I ride my horse in permitted areas, sometimes I take my dogs. They are delightful companions; I can call them off bounding deer — to the surprise and delight of onlookers. But I would never, ever, allow them to roam our national parks. I encourage the agencies to take a hard look at this issue. Signed, C. Berto, California, USA

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